HESPERIA — Knowing the city is experiencing financial difficulty in maintaining or improving its fire protection service, the Council approved a resolution that would begin the process of turning over its fire protection service to the San Bernardino County Fire District
The resolution requests the Local Agency Formation Commission begin reorganization proceedings to annex the Hesperia Fire Protection District to County Fire for a price tag capped at $76,530 for deposit, application, deposit and filing fees.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Russ told the Daily Press the LAFCO process may take up to one year, but could be completed in less time since the agency became “familiar with the fire service situation” after it began an initial review process earlier this year.
“Several annexations have been completed with districts moving into County Fire Service District No. 5, where the county requires a $148 parcel tax,” Russ said. “We said we cannot go into District 5 so they’ll be no parcel tax in Hesperia unless the county asks the citizens to vote for one.”
As for Hesperia’s unfunded liability, associated with the California Public Employees' Retirement System and estimated at $47 to $50 million, Russ said the city will “pick up the payment.”
“Over a horizon of 30 years-plus, as people die, that cost goes down,” Russ said. “But as people retire, that cost will go up. We have that cost no matter what or who controls the fire district. If we go with County Fire, we won’t have future liabilities in that area.”
Russ said except for pensions, all costs and assets will go to the county on day one of the annexation, with $6 million of capital going toward fire trucks and fire stations in Hesperia only. He added that Station 301 may be remodeled in the process.
“Also, it’s not a gift of public funds when assets go from one public agency to another,” Russ said. “The city of Hesperia and the county fire district are both public agencies so it’s not considered gifts when the county takes over control of vehicles and property.”
City Manager Nils Bentsen told the Council the city did not get a formal bid for fire service from Cal Fire, but came to the conclusion that the cost of doing business with Cal Fire was not adequate after reviewing the contracts of other cities.
The HFPD, a subsidiary district of the city of Hesperia, has contracted with County Fire to provide fire suppression, ambulance and fire prevention services since June 2004. The city has contracted firefighter services with the department on a one-year basis since the 10-year contract expired two years ago.
With a growing population, an ever increasing fire service budget and several failed ballot measures to fund the HFPD, the city has seen the closure of Station 301, located at 9430 11th Ave., and the cutting of nine firefighter positions from the city's contract.
The closure of Hesperia's oldest fire station, which opened in 1957, trimmed $752,000 from the district's then $9.2 million budget. But even with the cuts, the city had to pitch in to help.
“Hesperia can't afford to subsidize the fire district out of general funds as some say we should,” Russ said. “We have to live within a confined budget and you can’t take money out of the general fund to pay employees.”
Russ’ sentiment was echoed by the entire Council, who added that they were not willing to take money out of the city’s general fund to keep fire operations afloat.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.